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Grandma Lives to Luge
The oldest competitor in the Torino, Italy Winter Olympics 2006 says her sport has given her an opportunity to share the Gospel message all over the world.


Anne Abernathy has trained thousands of hours for death-defying sled runs lasting less than a single minute.

Anne Abernathy

This February the 52-year-old former singer is in Torino, Italy to compete in her record-breaking sixth Winter Olympics as a member of the Virgin Islands luge team. She will also extend her own record of being the oldest female Winter Olympian and will be the first competitor over age 50.

"It's a blast going down that hill," she says. "As long as I can stay competitive and keep up with the younger kids, why not do it?"

Lugers ride on their backs, combating a force twice that of a space shuttle launch, and steer the runners with their calves and feet. Strict rules apply to the competitors' shoes and gloves to prevent unfair advantages. Because wind resistance plays a major role in time reduction, riders wear tight body suits with no protection from injury other than a visored helmet.

Most athletes gain exposure to the 'luge'—a French word for sled—as natives of colder climates where alpine events dominate the sports scene. But Abernathy discovered the sport purely by accident. While visiting Lake Placid, NY, site of the 1980 Olympics, she took a trial run and fuelled a passion.

"I saw a luge come down, and I went 'Wow—how cool is that!'," she reveals. "It looked like fun, [but] I had no idea I would be going to six Olympics."

Raised in a military family, Abernathy settled as an adult in St. Thomas, one of the Virgin Islands. With perfect timing, the small United States territory formed its first Winter Olympic team for the 1988 Calgary games, and Anne earned a slot in luge.

Since then, the racer nicknamed "Grandma Luge" has competed in four more Olympiads—Alberville (1992), Lillehammer (1994), Nagano (1998), and Salt Lake City (2002). Although she's never finished higher than 20th, the thrill of competition and opportunity to interface with multiple nations and athletes gives her pure joy.

"There's so much more to the Olympics than just getting a medal," confesses Abernathy. "It's an event that brings the whole world together. Every Olympian has a medal, and just in getting there, we have a victory."

The veteran luger loves to share her faith in Christ at competitions. Her current coach, Vera Zozulia, the 1908 gold medalist in luge from the former Soviet Union, became a Christian after receiving a Bible printed in Latvian, her native language, from Abernathy.

Much like her Olympic discovery, the senior athlete developed a personal relationship with Christ through a seemingly chance encounter. After speaking to a minister she met at a collegiate dance, Abernathy accepted Jesus as her personal Saviour the following day. During her college days, she strengthened her Christian faith through Bible studies and involvement with Young Life.

"I committed my life to the Lord, not knowing which direction I would go," she admits. "The Lord has used me since in many ways, and I've been able to witness around the world."

Abernathy's faith also sustained her when a tragic accident almost ended her racing career in January 2001 at the World Cup in Altenbert, Germany. Her sled skidded and hit the wall going into a curve. The collision flipped Abernathy into the air, slamming her head against the roof and cracking her helmet. Her unconscious body slid face down almost 35 yards to the end of the run. Rescuers required 20 minutes to climb onto the track and retrieve the injured athlete.

Upon revival, three years of Anne's memory was found to be erased due to a concussion. After she had suffered several episodes of seizures, doctors feared she could no longer drive and would be forced to take medication the rest of her life. They said nothing could be done to reverse the damage.

Abernathy opted for non-traditional therapy, however. Using electrodes attached to her head, she learned to control her brainwaves by playing video games. Since the treatment involved no drugs or invasive procedures, Anne's rehabilitation occurred in record time, allowing her to compete in her fifth Olympic games.

"The Lord had set things up without me even realizing it," she reveals. "I was ready to go to California for some peak performance training using brain, neuro-feedback therapy, and I had hired an osteopath who was a cranial-sacral massage specialist. Everything was in place to get me through this critical period."

Grandma Luge

Following the Olympics in Torino, Abernathy will retire from the luge course and turn her attention to the unique treatment that extended her career. She will serve as a spokesperson for neural-feedback therapy, stressing its multiple uses and drug-free, non-invasive nature.

"The Lord has put me in this position for a reason," she says. "Very few people know about it, but it's good for epilepsy, stroke victims, brain concussions, and peak performance training."

Abernathy considered foregoing her sixth Olympics after breaking five bones in her foot last February during a trial run. A long and arduous rehabilitation seemed too high a price to pay for a few seconds in the spotlight. But the long-time Olympian realized she competes not only for herself but also for God.

"The Lord gave me this opportunity," Abernathy reveals. "It's going to be a long time before someone gets in my position to make Olympic history, and I just couldn't turn my back on it."

She adds, "I am truly blessed to do something I love, and I couldn't do it if the Lord weren't behind me."

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Originally published in Living Light News, January/February, 2006.



 

 
 
 
 

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